Buzzworthiness: Kingsburg

This week’s review is of a classic dice allocation game:

image by BGG user tanis
image by BGG user tanis

Kingsburg was designed by Andrea Chiarvesio and Luca Iennaco, and was originally published in 2007 (Fantasy Flight first published the game in the US in 2008).  It’s a game for 2-5 players that takes around 90 minutes to play.  The game is all about trying to build up your province for maximum prosperity, all the while keeping an eye on the hordes of goblins, demons, and barbarians that will attack after each year.  The game comes with a large board, 15 colored player dice, 6 white game dice, 15 player discs, 60 goods cubes, 85 building tokens, 20 “+2” tokens, 5 province sheets, a royal envoy pawn, a season marker, a year marker, and 25 enemy cards.  Each player gets a color, and puts a disc on the score track, soldier track, and turn order track.

The game lasts for five years (what?!? I thought the box said 90 minutes!!!), and each year follows the same sequence.  First is the Aid from the King phase, in which the player with the fewest buildings receives an extra die for the spring (tied players all get a good of their choice).  There is then a spring production round, in which all players roll three dice.  The player with the lowest total will go first, and the player with the highest total will go last.  Players will take turns placing at least one die on one of the 18 advisors.  The total on the dice must equal the number of the advisor you’re influencing, and there are modifiers you can use to change the result.  You can’t place on an advisor that already has a die or dice on it.  This continues until all players have placed all of their dice (or can no longer place any more).  You then resolve the advisors in order:

  1. Jester: Gain one point.
  2. Squire: Take one gold.
  3. Architect: Take one wood.
  4. Merchant: Take one gold OR one wood.
  5. Sergeant: Recruit one soldier, marked on the soldier track.
  6. Alchemist: Transmute one type of good into the other two.  So gold becomes wood and stone, wood becomes gold and stone, and stone becomes gold and wood.
  7. Astonomer: Take a good of your choice, plus a +2 token.
  8. Treasurer: Take two gold.
  9. Master Hunter: Take one wood and your choice of gold or stone.
  10. General: Recruit two soldiers on the soldier track, and peek at the enemy for the year.
  11. Swordsmith: Take one stone and your choice of gold or wood.
  12. Duchess: Take two goods of your choice, plus a +2 token.
  13. Champion: Take three stone.
  14. Smuggler: Pay one point to take three goods of your choice.
  15. Inventor: Take one gold, one wood, and one stone.
  16. Wizard: Take four gold.
  17. Queen: Take two goods of your choice, gain three points, and peek at the enemy for the year.
  18. King: Take one gold, one wood, one stone, and recruit a soldier.

Once resolved, it’s time for a building phase, where players can spend resources to build structures that will give them certain advantages in the game.  You do not have to build.

After the spring building phase, it’s time for The King’s Reward.  The player with the most buildings gains a point (tied players all get the point).  There then follows a summer production round, which is just like the spring production.  After resolving advisors and building, it’s time for The King’s Envoy to be assigned.  The Envoy goes to the player with the fewest buildings (ties are broken by goods, but further ties mean no one gets it), and allows you to place on an already influenced advisor once during the next three production seasons.  Next is the fall production season, which is just like spring and summer.

Everything changes in the winter.  You get one opportunity to recruit more soldiers, with each costing two resources.  You then roll a die to see how many reinforcements the King sends to everyone, then reveal the year’s enemy.  All players whose defense exceeds the number on the enemy gains a small reward.  All players who have less defense than the number on the enemy card suffer a harsh penalty (which is often worse than the reward is good).  Players who tie get nothing, but also lose nothing.

Play continues for five years, with enemies getting steadily tougher.  After the fifth year, the player with the most points wins.

COMPONENTS: Kingsburg is a very attractive game.  The art is really nice and does not distract from the game play at all.  The board is laid out in a very logical manner, with the advisors set up in a kind of pyramid.  There’s also a track so you can keep track of the season, another for the year, another for turn order, another for soldiers, and another around the board for score.  The symbols are all fairly easy to follow – gold, wood, and stone are all represented by icons showing the actual item.  The soldiers are represented by a shield and crossed swords behind it, goods of your choice are represented by bags, VPs are represented by flags, and the ability to peek at the enemy for the year is a weird little pink flame thing.  These symbols are present on the buildings as well as the advisors.

The building board features four rows of four columns each.  Each building has some text and symbology to remind you of their special abilities.  It’s well laid out.  The building board itself pretty thin, made out of cardstock, and tokens will easily slide around on the glossy surface if you aren’t careful.

The dice in the game are fairly lightweight.  They are made of wood, and are in different colors to correspond to the players who control them.  The dice I roll always seem to roll really low, which may be a problem with the physical components rather than my dice luck.  I have heard other people comment that certain dice in each copy never seem to roll as well as others.  In my copy, it’s the black dice, which happens to be the color I always play with.  Seriously, people think I’m joking when I say the dice hate me in Kingsburg.  The last game I played, I got over 11 over my three dice one time.

Overall, I think the components in this game are very nice.  I might change the player boards to make them have a little more traction, but other than that, everything is great.

THEME: When this game came out, there were not a lot of Eurogames with fantasy themes.  This one broke some new ground, and now we see them everywhere.  The theme here is kind of generic – you’re building up your empire in preparation for enemy attacks at the end of each round.  In fact, if not for these enemies, this game could just be a standard medieval theme.  That little extra twist helps open the game up to new audiences that might not try it otherwise.

MECHANICS: Kingsburg is a dice allocation game.  That means you roll the dice, then assign them to different places in order to gain certain advantages.  It’s kind of like worker placement, though your “workers” are variable from round to round since they must be rolled first.  The randomness of this dice roll is mitigated by the number of modifiers you can potentially get (+2 tokens are readily available, and certain buildings also allow you to change what you roll), as well as being able to split the dice and combine them in different ways to influence your preferred advisors.

There is a heavy dose of resource management in this game as well.  Throughout, you will be collecting resources – wood, gold, and stone – and trying to spend them in such a way that you will help your kingdom out the most.  Another resource you’ll have to keep track of is your defense.  You can build structures to increase your protection, but you’ll probably also want soldiers.  Getting soldiers costs you dice, and will be hotly contested, especially in the later rounds.

The yearly enemy attack is in place to force you to think about defensive positioning, and possibly distract you from other paths.  Early in the game, the enemies are fairly easy to defeat, but they do get tougher as the game goes on.  One aspect of the enemies I find most interesting is that the benefit of defeating one is not as good as the penalty is bad.  For example, defeating the first year goblins might get you one wood.  However, LOSING to those same goblins will cost you a wood, a stone, a point, and a building.

It’s nice that the game follows the same sequence from year to year, and even has three production seasons before you hit the baddies for the round.  The Aid from the King and King’s Envoy are good catch up mechanisms, while the King’s Reward gives some nice bonus points for someone concentrating on building.  The rounds tend to flow smoothly, with a nice climax at the end with the reveal of the enemy.  Overall, the game flows very smoothly.

STRATEGY LEVEL: There is a lot of strategy in Kingsburg.  Though the central mechanism involves rolling dice, there’s still the determination of where you want them to go.  Do you use that 4-5-6 on the 15 and get one of each resource, or do you try to get three soldiers (the 4-6 and the 5)?  Or do you use the 4-5 to get one wood and one stone, then use the 6 to turn the wood into gold and stone?  Of course, you can look at other people’s dice, see what they’re trying to do, and try to get in their way to meet your own ends.

The buildings provide an interesting extra level of strategy.  There is no interaction between player buildings, but you can give yourself certain advantages by building wisely.  Some people will build all of the military strength they can.  Others will go the economic route to make things cheaper in the long run.  Still others will go for straight points.  There are many paths, but all seem to work well.

There’s also some strategy in holding back on your building.  Getting that extra die or the King’s envoy can be huge, while the King’s reward is only a point each year.  So you might want to not build as quickly as some other players, lying in wait to strike.

While there is luck, there’s still a lot of strategic opportunities.  The game is well balanced, and this is evident in a game I played a couple of years ago where all three players were tied at the end.  We had to go to the last tiebreaker (resources) to determine the winner (it wasn’t me – I came in third of all tied players).

ACCESSIBILITY: Kingsburg is not an overly complicated game, but it’s also not one I would recommend to people who have never played hobby games before.  I see it as a good next step game – once someone has dipped their toe in the ocean of gaming, this might be a good place to take them next.  There’s a lot going on, and while it’s all fairly intuitive, I can see it being pretty overwhelming for a complete newbie.

REPLAYABILITY: Because of the multiple paths to victory, and inherent luck of the dice rolling, there’s some good replayability in the game.  However, I can attest that it does tend to feel a bit samey after a while.  The advisors never change, and the buildings never change.  The expansion apparently ramps up the replayability (I’ve never tried it, so I can’t say).

SCALABILITY: Kingsburg is a game that I think plays quite well with all numbers.  With two, there’s not going to be as much bumping into each other, whereas having more increases the tactical decisions of where to place your dice.  I tend to like it with multiple players, but I think it does well with all numbers.

FOOTPRINT: This is a pretty big game that needs quite a bit of space.  The board is 22 inches square, and has storage places for all tokens and resources.  But then, each player has their own building board and needs a place to roll their dice.  So I’d suggest a medium to large table.

LEGACY: When Kingsburg came out, there weren’t a lot of Eurogames that had a) heavy reliance on dice, or b) a fantasy theme.  It was one of the games that, I think, turned the tide and started producing more of the hybrid games we see now – it’s a resource management game with dice and monsters.  It still stands up these seven years later as a great example of how to really make the two poles of gaming work together.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  I think Kingsburg is a great game that everyone should try.  As always, your mileage may vary and it won’t necessarily be a game for you.  But it’s a great example of how dice allocation works, and is a fun and beautiful game on top of that.  Thanks for reading!

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2 comments

  1. It’s worth noting that the expansion Kingsburg: To Forge a Realm is one of the best expansions made for any game. It adds so many more worthwhile and customisable options that it is almost essential.

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